The state of Maryland seems to have a pretty cool multiple personality disorder. There's Western Maryland, Central Maryland, Maryland's Eastern Shore, the Maryland you experience around the cities of Washington D.C. and Baltimore and then there's Southern Maryland. Janice and I had never ventured to this beautiful portion of the state until The Frozen Heart 50K drew my want for a low-key/grass roots February ultra. <More on the region later.>
Years ago I used to enjoy running small community 5K's and it seems the 50K has taken their place. You know the 5K's where everybody knows each other, you get a Road ID bib number and the field is small. I found this little gem for February called the Frozen Heart 50K. It seemed low-key and the back and forth activity on Facebook made it seem that The Chesapeake Bay Running Club was a fun bunch of folks. To accumulate 50K of trail you had to run three 10+ mile laps around St. Mary's Lake at St. Mary's River State Park near Callaway Maryland. The event offered a 17K (one lap) and a 34K (two laps) as well and while you were expected to designate your distance at registration, I was pretty sure I heard they were cool with you changing your distance up or down during the event. This year the race was included in the 2016 RRCA MD Ultra Series and for the first time, it sold out. I wanted to run a 50K in February and this one seemed perfect.
When I signed up for The Frozen Heart I was delighted to see that Rob Tidwell, an Ultra Legend from Virginia, would also be running it. A couple years ago at The Stone Mill 50 I found myself leap frogging with another runner along the way. I passed him at an early aid station and then he passed me and it happened a couple more times. A missing marking at a fork in the trail sent a bunch of us off course. After getting back on the trail I realized I was right behind this guy I had been swapping back and forth with. His pace seemed to match my shuffle so I hung with him. He eventually grew weary of his shadow and asked me who the hell I was. We ran the last 30+ miles together to the finish. We discovered that we were cut from the same sarcastic smart-ass clothe and got along famously. Those who know me, know I run primarily on my own and I struggle when there are others around me especially when they talk incessantly. I'm not sure what it was, but Rob and I hit it off that day and I hoped to get to tag along with him at The Frozen Heart as well. The other interesting piece was that I noticed a volunteer, active on the event Facebook page was also named Perry. In my life, I have met one other and that was decades ago in high school. I hoped I'd get to meet Perry Rapp and at least be able to add my second Perry-acquaintance to that extremely short list.
After the long drive from Harrisburg we made it to packet pick up, stopped at the hotel just long enough to check in and went off to find dinner. Rob had suggested the Olde Towne Pub in Leonardtown, in fact we had hoped to meet he and his Wife there, but our arrival was so delayed we called it off (long story, but we just missed them as they ate in a restaurant across the street from the pub). The pub was packed with happy-hour lingerers, but we eventually got a seat. We got some crazy appetizer, Fried Pickles served with Boom Boom Sauce, loved it. They had a good beer selection on tap and Janice enjoyed her Fish and Chips. My burger wasn't very exciting, but that's ok I just wanted something to fill my belly the night before the race.
We made it to the race start easily. The 250 acre St Mary's Lake is the result of the damming of The St. Mary's River and it's part of the bigger St. Mary's River State Park. The race started and finished at The St. Mary's Boat Launch. After the race I saw that the runners were gradually replaced by fishermen. There's a 7.5 mile trail that circles the lake and the race organizers added some additional trail/dirt roads to make the loop a little more than 10 miles. I'm not a huge fan of ultras that require laps, but in this case the trail varied enough that you never really settled into a boring groove. Yes, you recognized trail from your previous visits, but it was broken up enough to keep it fresh. For example, on the first lap I stepped in a water hole that went up to my running shorts and I never found it again on laps 2 or 3. It was a beautiful day in Southern Maryland as the temperatures reached the low 60's. This race known for it's snow and ice covered trails this day was known for it's mud bogs and ice cold pools of standing water. The El Nino Winter had struck again.
As I was standing with the shivering crowd waiting for "Go!" I noticed Rob so I made my way over to him and asked if I was supposed to stand behind him. It was pretty cool to reunite with my running buddy from Virginia. Team RWB was there with American flags and a woman with an incredible voice sang our national anthem. Rob told me I needed to sprint to avoid a bottle neck at the trail head. Remembering his sense of humor, I asked him if he was serious. I could see myself taking of full bore while he had a laugh. He wasn't kidding and when we got our "Go!" we took off faster than usual and successfully avoided the traffic jam. Rob's speedy daughter was running the single lap/17k option and she was with us for a brief moment and then we watched her disappear as we approached the dam crossing along the southern bank of the lake. (At 1:41:52, she was 2nd Female finisher in the 17K and the only runner in her sub 20 year old age group for that distance - congratulations!)
The course was a mix of single track and grassy dirt roads. The single track was muddy, but the real mud lived on the dirt roads. Some of it stuck to your shoes, but most of it was about 5 or 6 inches deep and extremely slippery. You had three laps to figure out a way to tip toe through the slippery mud patches or find a way around on more solid ground. No route really seemed like a great idea. The roads were the location of most of the standing water as well. The ice cold water was a lot of fun. Yes, old men have fun splashing through deep mud puddles, but the real amusement came from watching other runners trying to keep their feet dry. Runners would pass us and we'd catch back up to them at the next sign of mud or deep water. We'd plow through as they scattered into the forest to avoid it.
There were 2 aid stations, one at the start/finish and the other at the 5ish mile mark. For me that felt like perfect spacing and Janice had access to both. I was carrying a handheld and on the first lap I used ClifBar Cranberry Razz Electrolyte drink. I had a good breakfast (English Muffin with Sunflower Seed Butter and a Banana) and I was pretty well hydrated so I didn't feel like I'd need Tailwind, the true endurance fuel, until my second and third laps. I also ate Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches at the aid stations just to convince my brain that I was actually eating something. I carried ClifShot gels in my handheld, but never ate any. After all, Tailwind is "all you need, all day. really." ;-)
|Perry, Perry & Rob - Two Laps/22 Miles Done|
I think it was halfway through the second lap when a guy seemed to join Rob and I. After brief introductions, it became clear that Rob was now running with two Perrys. Perry and I shared the coincidental story that each of us had only met one other Perry and it was in high school. He knew the trails well as he lives nearby and runs them often. We were sure to thank him for the watery conditions. Both Rob and Perry talked of the difficulty in past years when the trails were covered in snow and ice and the temperatures were frigid. I'll take the mud and the sunny 60° temperatures any day.
|Arriving at the aid station - Lap 3 Mile 26ish|
My start of lap three wasn't so good. I drank a ton at the start/finish and had classic aquarium gut for the first few miles. I did everything I could to not let it affect my pace, but I was feeling awful. My stomach and breathing settled just before the 25 mile aid station. Heading out of there, Rob had said he was going to duck in the woods and take a leak. I talked with Janice briefly, grabbed a Peanut Butter and Jelly and started walking figuring Rob would catch up while I ate. I had a big wad of sandwich in my mouth when I realized he wasn't behind me, he was ahead of me waiting for me. I took off to catch him, sandwich got wedged in my throat and I barfed. I started this lap with a bad gut and I'd finish it that way too.
We chugged along the trails we knew pretty well by now and I felt like I was going good until we had about 3 miles to go. I had been leading our friendly threesome and somewhere in there Rob came around me and I was now dragging. I was in trouble, dropping off his pace and surging just to stay in contact. He started singing, yes singing. Rob's a horrible singer and to make it worse I didn't know or recognize any of the songs (except for Rolling On The River, but I had no energy to join in anyway). It didn't matter I was back in my "awful" place (FYI - that's the opposite of "happy place"). I had enough to hang on in my delirium and at the finish Rob mentioned something about me being "the guest" and that I let him "go first last time" and I found myself finishing just ahead of him.
It's not uncommon to slip into misery while running an ultra, but I can't say it ever happened to me right before finishing, so that kind of sucked. The cute kids at the finish line needed the tear-off from our numbers and as I fumbled with the safety pins with sausage fingers, the little girl also asked how many laps we had run. As I answered "three" all I could think of was "wow, do I look that slow or that bad that they think I may have run less?"...ugh...but no, it was just so she knew what to give us. Every runner got a cool medal that noted all the distances, but 50K finishers also received an oval race magnet. I drank some chocolate milk and I was back on Earth. Rob said some women he knows from the area tried to speak with him right after we finished and now he had to go back and make amends for his post-ultra inability to talk. Janice and I hung out for a little while, I changed my muddy clothing, took a baby-wipe bath, bid Rob farewell until next time and we hit the road to do some sight seeing.
|Rob & I After Our 32.5 Mile 50K|
Janice asked if there was somewhere close we could buy good beer to take home from the region and we were guided to the Beer Cave. I loved the name, so off we went. The Beer Cave is a gas station where you can buy beer, wine, liquor, guns and ammo. There was a sign on the counter that said, "yes we have clips for your AR" right next to "Make You Own Six Pack" sign. Everything you could need. We snagged beer from various Maryland Craft Breweries and Washington DC and Delaware too.
|The Piney Point Petroleum Pier|
Then we went total tourist and checked out the beauty of the region and headed to Piney Point. Nearing Piney Point, there's no missing the enormous petroleum terminal. There's a pier there where oil tankers pull up and off-load their oil. The oil is then piped to the huge tanks you see onshore. Piney Point also has a pretty cool lighthouse. It's small in comparison to some other lighthouses we'd seen, but full of history. I enjoyed the story I read about how the Confederates warned the house keeper to get out because they were going to destroy it. The light house allowed the Union ships to be able to recognize the point at night and give away the Confederate smuggling operation. It's still standing today so obviously they never blew it up.
|In 1880 a bell tower was added to aid the lighthouse in dense fog, but it was dismantled |
after being badly damaged by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. The bell still remains.
|Piney Point Lighthouse|
The area had been a popular resort as well, one historical marker described that tourists would come by ship from points north. The Piney Point Hotel operated until 1933 when it was badly damaged by a hurricane. Presidents Monroe, Pierce and Teddy Roosevelt all visited as well and the lighthouse became also known as the Presidents' Lighthouse. We drove out onto St. George's Island just to take a look, but we had to get on the road so we didn't stay too long. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the one last stop we made at Yo Mamma's Hot Wings in Prince Frederick Maryland. We've kind of become hot wing snobs. At Yo Mamma's we tried five different flavors and simply put, they were great. They also had locally brewed craft beer on tap. If you ever find yourself in Prince Frederick Maryland, I highly recommend Yo Mamma's Hot Wings. All in all a fun trip to run a fun 50K with friend(s).
Other stuff I used:
Altra Lone Peak 2.0
Superfeet Insoles (orange)
Injinji Trail 2.0
Zensah Ultra Compression Calf Sleeves
Brooks Running Shorts
ClifBar Trucker Hat (until it got too warm)
ClifBar Headsweats Visor
ClifBar wicking t-shirt - THANKS ClifBar
Nathan Performance Quick Draw Plus - handheld
The North Face Arm Warmers (until it got too warm)
Manzella Light Weight Gloves (until it got too warm)
Suunto Ambit3 Peak HR
I promised our dogs Mojo and Mollie that I'd take them for a run on the mountain after we got back from Maryland. The next morning Janice and I loaded our 4-Legged children in the Jeep and headed to nearby Blue Mountain. I was surprised by the amount of snow that remained on the trails at Boyd Big Tree Preserve, especially after running the previous day in late-Spring/snow-free conditions. We run an easy lollipop route from the Blue Mountain Parkway parking area. The dogs and I continue across the power line clearing and Janice hikes and turns right down a rocky portion of the Janie Trail just East of the power line. After a steep descent and climb, the dogs and I return on the Upper Spring/Janie Trail until we meet up with Janice and then we all hike back together from there. The dogs and I get a little run and we all get a nice hike.
There were two cars at the parking lot so I started with the dogs on leashes. We saw one hiker almost immediately and shortly thereafter another hiker with his pup. After that I thought human inventory was complete so I left my two Hellions off their leashes. They're very good about staying with me and if I think they've ventured too far, a simple "Hey" brings them back. That all works great unless they sense a human ahead that they absolutely need to meet. Just before the power line, they took off and wouldn't return on my command. As I got closer to the power line, I could now see the lone hiker and Mojo and Mollie were making friends as I yelled, "I'm sorry" and "they're friendly". He assured me that it was ok, that he knew they only wanted to play. Mojo was laying at his feet like he was his dog (suck up). I said, "yes they only want to play, but the black and white one has a habit of jumping to give kisses". He said, "oh yeah, he did that, but it's cool I'm a dog person, I get it". Thank goodness! Not everyone's a dog person and some people definitely don't "get it". I know, I know, I'm an irresponsible dog owner and they shouldn't have been off their leashes. I was carrying their conventional leashes and when we're running they wear collars with retractable leashes in them, so I always have some kind of handle if I need to have hold of them. People don't usually venture from The Boyd Big Tree parking to the top of the mountain in bad conditions, so I thought we had seen the last of the humans till we found Janice.
|Mojo & Mollie Running To Meet Janice Without Me|
We continued and then started our snowy descent which felt like running down a ski slope, made a hard right turn and soon we were climbing back towards the power line. We still had more than a quarter mile to the power line when Mojo and Mollie took off again. This time however I was running up a snow covered hill the day after a 50K and I stood no chance of keeping them in sight. I was hoping they sensed Janice ahead, but in the back of my mind I was wondering which direction the man we met earlier had gone. We saw him on the south side of the mountain and I thought he was going the same direction as us so he should be behind us, but if he crossed over the ridge and hiked down the steep portion of the power line...I thought, oh well they met him once, they can meet him again. I came around the final bend and was able to see Janice and the dogs together at the power line. She was completely out of sight when they took off and for a good distance as I chased, so how they knew she was there I don't know. After that, the four of us had a nice (uneventful) hike back to the Jeep.
|Mollie & Mojo With Their Irresponsible Dog Owner|
Next up for me - The Naked Bavarian 40 Miler at Blue Marsh Lake near Leesport, PA - gonna be a blast - see you all there!